A feast for the soul

Folks Fest continues to be a celebration of narrative songwriting, but this year it’s also a celebration of rebirth

Ryan Mastro

It seems too soon, but it’s here — that subtle change in the evening air that suggests the shift from summer to autumn is nearing. We’ve just transitioned out of what the Old Farmer’s Almanac considers the oppressively hot “dog days of summer,” and a reprieve from sweltering temperatures gives us a chance to revitalize — to harvest our metaphysical crops, if you will — and fatten our souls before the long, cold days of winter.

Around these parts, there’s no better table to set a feast for the soul than Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons. And around this time of year there’s no better feast for the soul than the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, a veritable cornucopia of great music from some of the world’s most talented singer/ songwriters. As we prepare ourselves for the changing of the seasons, Folks Fest provides us a physical place to wind down, reflect and enjoy the final days of summer.

This year’s Folks Fest, which runs from Aug. 15-17, is the festival’s 24th installment. The event has certainly changed over the years, moving from its birthplace in Estes Park to the renowned grounds of Planet Bluegrass. And of course it’s grown in size, but the festival has strayed nary an inch from its roots as a welcoming celebration of the art of narrative songwriting.

But this year there’s new reason to celebrate — it’s a rebirth, of sorts, for both the Town of Lyons and the Planet Bluegrass Ranch since last September’s historic rains turned the gentle St. Vrain into a destructive force of nature.

Craig Ferguson, president of Planet Bluegrass, vowed to make the ranch better than ever after last year’s flood, and with the help of a tight-knit community he’s delivered on that promise. In parallel, the Town of Lyons has risen like a phoenix from the ashes post-flood, but there’s still work to be done.

This continued need for support is a core reason many artists say Folks Fest is such a special treat for them to play this year, including long-running indie jam band darlings Dispatch, who will headline Friday night at the festival.

The three gentlemen from Dispatch — Brad Corrigan, Peter Heimbold and Chad Urmston — have been making music together since 1996, amassing along the way an insanely devoted set of fans and selling out consecutive shows at monster arenas like Madison Square Garden and Colorado’s own Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Despite the trio’s ability to pack the biggest houses, Folks Fest kind of seems like just where these guys belong.

“Oh gosh, we just love to play,” says Corrigan, who sings, drums, guitars and plays harmonica with Dispatch. Corrigan says the band met Planet Bluegrass’ Craig Ferguson at last year’s Telluride Blues Festival.

“When we heard that he was interested in hosting us and that it was a year of rebuilding with a lot of effort from everybody’s individual perspectives, it was just like, come on, let’s make it happen. And Colorado’s such a fun place to play and hometown for me is Denver, so it doesn’t take much arm-twisting for me.”

While philanthropy is not new to Dispatch — they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support education organizations like City Year Denver and other international literacy organizations — Corrigan just sees it as a privilege.

“If it’s ‘help’ to show up somewhere and do what you love to do, that’s a double paycheck,” says Corrigan. “Knowing there’s a small community up there that will be really encouraged by artists that will come and all the fans that will come to see something being rebuilt, that’s just special. That doesn’t happen all the time.”

Seemingly humble to his very core, Corrigan sees the more intimate nature of an event like Folks Fest as an invaluable opportunity for a musician.

“I mean folk music, the story telling component to it, and also just the fan base, it’s just so special. Honestly, it’s nice to play huge venues all the time but you’re always trying to find a place to inspire,” Corrigan says. “A lot of times the greatest energy, the greatest artistry and greatest inspiration can be not at the hugest festivals, the hugest venues, but really a cool opportunity to watch other artists play and meet other people and this particular promoter, Craig Ferguson, does a phenomenal job of creating a culture you want to be a part of.”

The lineup for this year’s Folks Fest suggests that Corrigan isn’t exaggerating when he says Ferguson creates an environment musicians want to experience. In addition to Dispatch, huge names in folk like Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlile and Randy Newman will all be on hand to spin lyrical yarns for Folks Fest festivarians.

Corrigan says he and his band mates are excited to see Iowa-native musician Greg Brown, who Corrigan calls “such a phenomenal singer/songwriter.” Corrigan says he and his band mates saw Brown once when he came through Middlebury, Vermont back in the ’90s when the boys from Dispatch were attending college.

Corrigan also notes that Ani DiFranco’s song “31 Flavors” was a huge influence on Dispatch.

“It’s super fun to think about the connection to those guys back in the day and that we get to share a stage with them,” says Corrigan.

You haven’t missed your chance to marinate in the serene sounds of Folks Fest — single-day tickets for Friday and Sunday and camping are still available. Visit shop.bluegrass.com or call 800-624-2422.

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